1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect of trends in the cost of public transport on the affordability of those services. (905568)
Rail fares rose by 0.7% last year thanks to this Government’s fares cap, meaning that rail fares rose by less than earnings for the first time since 2003. Outside London, deregulated bus fares rose by 1.8% last year, with the Government continuing to spend more than £1.2 billion a year through the bus service operators grant and concessionary fares to help keep fares affordable.
With a quarter of unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds finding that the cost of a bus fare is a barrier to getting a job, what steps does the Minister intend to take to ensure that young people have access to work and training?
There are already concessionary fares targeted exactly at that group. On the rail network too, there are now specific discount fares for jobseekers. Often this is a matter for local authorities to work on with their bus operators. The Bus Services Bill currently in Committee gives local authorities additional powers through a franchising mechanism, should they choose to use it.
After many years of Conservative deregulation and privatisation, we find that many of our bus and rail operators are now owned by European companies, and some by European Governments indeed. Given that we are not exactly flavour of the month in Europe, and that we already know that British passengers are subsidising other countries, what can the Minister say reassure us that we will not see our fares going up as a consequence?
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman—it is a pleasure to see him on the Front Bench this morning. Those operators may have ownership structures involving foreign entities, as do many British companies, but any operator in the UK is a UK-based company, employing UK staff and headquartered in the UK, continuing to invest in a very successful rail and bus programme right across the country.
I am not sure the House will be entirely reassured by that. We have talked already about the Bus Services Bill. Will the Minister take this opportunity to withdraw the punitive clause 21, which will stop local councils creating successful municipal bus companies? What have the Secretary of State and others on the Government Front Bench got against British success stories such as Reading and Nottingham, which do so well?
We believe in parliamentary democracy in this country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Bill is in Committee in the Lords, and we will all have an opportunity to debate those points when it comes to our Chamber shortly.